Are health care costs a big factor in personal bankruptcy filings in the US?

Monday, June 21, 2021
By Gus Fisher

Research over the past 15 years points to medical expenses as a big contributor to personal bankruptcy in the U.S., but not to a consensus that health care costs are the number one cause.

An American Journal of Public Health survey of bankruptcy filers between 2016 and 2019 found that two-thirds of filers identified medical expenses as a factor—which suggests there have been limits to hoped-for benefits from the 2010 Affordable Care Act’s changes to insurance access and costs. A 2007 study by the American Journal of Medicine found that 62.1% of bankruptcies were medical.

Results from other studies vary. Health Affairs found that 17% of bankruptcies were caused by medical bills. A 2014 study published in Maine Law Review found that the number ranged from 18% to 26%. The New England Journal of Medicine found that 4% of bankruptcies were caused specifically by hospital costs.

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